Red Lightning
John Varley
Penguin Group Hardcover, 2006
ISBN: 0-441-01364-3
Science Fiction

Red Lightning is the second in the Red Thunder series, although it can be read and enjoyed even if you missed the first in the series. It is a somewhat traditional space adventure, with plenty of exiting adventures and descriptions of life in space, but without any particularly new or interesting ideas.

The Red Thunder series starts with the discovery of a cheap, safe, and reliable energy source known as a Squeezer, and how a few pioneers use it to build a spaceship and travel to Mars. Red Lightning moves onto the next generation, and follows Ray Garcia-Strickland, the son of Manny Garcia and Kelly Strickland-Garcia. They are quite a wealthy family, running one of the most popular hotels on Mars, and 17-year-old Ray and his older sister Elizabeth are living a life of luxury. And then one day something hits Earth. A projectile traveling close to the speed of light glances off the North Atlantic Ocean, sending a tsunami that wipes out most of the American East Coast, including most of Florida, where Ray's grandmother is still running the old motel. Ray's family being rich, they head back to Earth to try and find her. The first part of the book is about their adventures in the disaster zone, and as far as disaster fiction goes it's pretty good. However, this is only the introduction to their adventures, as soon governments and corporations start to battle for the control of Earth, and then Mars, as the world's economies collapse and governments fall. Naturally, their uncle Jubal, the inventor of the Squeezer device, is in high demand, and mysterious and powerful organizations are out to capture and/or destroy him. I will not say more than that in order to avoid spoilers, but I will add that both Jubal and Travis play large parts in this story.

This is a well-written and engaging story. Much like Red Thunder, this is a fun and fast-moving book, but not anything spectacular or new as far as the science fiction aspect goes. There is more miraculous science appearing at convenient times, and a strong feeling that the characters are following along behind events rather than leading them. There is a good bit of Heinleinish libertarian politics, and the writing is close in style and voice to Spider Robinson or Cory Doctorow. I find this to be a fun and comfortable read, but is is not as interesting and creative as Varley's 'Eight Worlds' series (Steel Beach and related stories).

Red Lightning currently has one sequel, Rolling Thunder.

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